February 2017 | by Carl Marsh
John, the main character in The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Cyril Avery was born in the 1940’s but it's a name not given to children born since that era, so you obviously did your research into selecting that name, is the accuracy of every minor detail as important to you as the storyline itself in this and in all of your books?
I've written a lot of books that I've set in the past and I always think that you should know as a novelist everything about the time and the people that you are writing about but you are not locked in to absolutely every single fact of it. The first duty you have is to the story you are telling, so sometimes you make a decision as a writer to alter things; there is a scene in the book where Nelson's Pillar is destroyed and in real life nobody died when that happened in Dublin but a couple of my characters do die in the book, they are fictional characters, so I can understand how some people would think that's playing fast and loose with the facts but it's a novel and not a work of non-fiction. I think once you know your facts and you have a reason for changing things then you are ok.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is partly set in Ireland, which many of your novels seldom have been, and this novel highlights so many Irish topics that everyone will relate to thanks to recent press, movies or books; was this your intention from the start to showcase a current, if slightly somewhat negative, history of Ireland in one novel?
Well it certainly was my idea to go through such a long period of Irish history of roughly 70 years and to analyse how it had changed. I didn't start out thinking I'm going to make it negative, and I can see how some people might think it is negative but I think it is more authentic as that's how things were for such a long period of time. Ireland has changed and matured in more recent years particularly since the Church lost so much of it's control over society. I love Ireland, I'm very proud of being Irish and it wouldn't be my intention to knock the country somewhat as to just present it, warts and all, but in this novel it still points out that it's still a great place and that there are still great people there. I hope it's authentic to people rather than just purely critical.
Would you be in agreement that life is much stranger than fiction and I guess one reason why you wrote this book?
I suppose it is because if we completely replicated everything that happened in life then it probably wouldn't ring true. Some of the most bizarre things happen on a daily basis but I think that for me, fiction is there to move the spirit in some way and not necessarily to replicate the world as we know it is. I see fiction as an emotional thing in that it's either going to make you laugh or make you sad, or scared or even furious about the world, that's what it has always meant for me as both a reader, and as a writer.
Do you ever think you will run out of ideas for storylines for your novels?
I don't think I will as I am fortunate enough in that I have a pretty active imagination and because I read so much and that I write so much, I feel like my brain is always attuned to stories and I always have notes of ideas that could become something, and most of which never will but I think the more that you are reading and writing, the imagination is like a muscle in the sense that you are exercising it and you are always open to things.
I once read that you wrote for about 5 hours a day, read for about 3 hours and then went to the pub for a drink or two, do you still try and do this, even if you are away from home minus any meetings such as this one?
All except the pub part (laughs)! I don't have another job so the days are for the most part filled with both reading and writing. Both of those things make me very happy and I see that as my day job. I am very disciplined about my job in the way that everybody has to be in that you get up and go to work, I do the same thing, I just happen to do it with my hands and I see reading as part of that although it is a pleasure, it's also part of my job in a sense because I like to keep up with other contemporary authors and people I meet at festivals and also books that people are reading at the moment, so I can be aware of them.
How do you decide what the subject of your next book will be, and do you feel pressure that it has to be better than the last?
In deciding the subject, it's less conscious on my part, it's more to do with the one idea that's jumping up and down in my head that's saying this is the one, this is the thing that I have to write, and that's very instinctive. And in terms of the second part of your question, it's not so much trying to make it better each time, it's growing as a writer that makes you want to write the very best book that you can every time and not necessarily being comparative to the last one, you just want people to read it, you want people to enjoy it. It would be disingenuous to pretend that you don't want good reviews and for people to feel it's not just a waste of their time, so yes, I think as a writer you are always trying to get better and I think novelists do in general think the older you get as a novelist, the more respect you get and the better your work gets. Often like in music for example, music is much more of a young man's game, other than the odd exception it happens a lot really in your 20's whereas I think writers intend to grow as they get older.
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When writing this new novel, what came first to you, the setting and era, or how you could show how impactful it would be like it did with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas where that book showed how children don't put things like religion, race or other adult inspired prejudices in the way of forming any friendship?
It's usually one little idea that will spark the whole thing like it did with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, it was just the idea of the two boys sitting at a fence talking to each other. With this new book it was the knowledge of a couple of years ago that the referendum in Ireland was going to be coming up within a year to a year in a half's time, and my curiosity about how Ireland had gone from being this incredibly conservative Catholic country to potentially being the first country to vote to legalise equal rights marriage, and so it's a little small thing like that just kick started something in my head, and then you want to answer that question by writing a book which is what I was trying to do.
So it's like current affairs and what's current for you, no doubt you did add some personal experiences in this book?
Yes, because a lot of it would be personal for me and part of it would reflect my own story in my own life, it just seemed like the right book, at the right time, for me to write.
Some readers may believe it's important to make a novel cinematic, has that ever been your intention with any of your novels?
I never think about that at all. I think any writer that publishes a novel with that in mind is probably going to write a bad novel. It's the last thing on my mind when I am writing a book. I look at it like this, I don't write novels as a source material for something else because I am not a screenwriter and I don't have any interest in doing that. The novels themselves are exactly what they are supposed to be, that's the medium in which I create them and after that, if anything happens, then sure it would be nice but it's not something I would be thinking about very much.
How did your upbringing in Ireland shape you as a writer?
The one thing that definitely affected me was the reading element of it because my parents and the rest of my family are great readers and they always brought us to the library and reading was a big part of our childhood. They then encouraged me very much with my writing as a teenager but I don't necessarily think it was a cultural thing, I think it was just something that was inside me from a very young age, I always loved writing and I always saw my future as being a writer, even at the age of 10 or 11 or 12. I wouldn't have known if I had the talent or not but it was certainly top of my list of what to do with my life.
Seeing as you are saying at a hotel in London as we conduct this interview, let’s say you were to get stuck in the lift for an hour, if you had to choose one dead author and also one living author to be stuck in it with, who would they be, and what would you wish to talk about for that hour?
One dead author, well..., I guess it would have to be Charles Dickens because as a teenager I started reading all those Orphan books at the age of 12 or 13 and it was my first introduction to big serious literature and I've always loved Dickens since then. A living author, well John Banville maybe, yeah, John Banville, he's always enjoyable to spend time with and I think we could get an interesting conversation going between the three of us!